The opposite of loneliness

Movie review: Everything is Illuminated


The men in whose name the communists ruled stand in the earth up their waists, installing what looks like a sewer line. They’ve all taken their shirts off, and you can see at a glance what age and a heavy diet have done to them. Hot sun above, mud below, and at the edge of the pit two young men in city clothes, nervous, asking directions to a village that vanished along with its inhabitants sixty years before.

For the wrong words, a beating. For the right words at the wrong time, a beating. For hitting the dog, a beating. Every hint of unreserved affection ringed by profanities — backfires set to ensure that the conflagration doesn’t spread. “Is the war over?” the Holocaust survivor wants to know. The grandfather replies tenderly, for once — and that’s the end of him.

We for whom this movie was made become foreigners to ourselves, amused and baffled. The narration is in a form of English invented for the occasion:

This is Sammy Davis Jr. Jr. She is Grandfather’s seeing eye bitch. Father purchased her for him not because he believes Grandfather is blind, but because a seeing eye bitch is also a good thing for people who pine for the opposite of loneliness. In truth, Father did not purchase her at all, but merely retrieved her from the home for forgetful dogs. Because of this, she is not a real seeing eye bitch, and is also mentally deranged.

Much of the movie appears to be shot on location in the Ukraine. Except for the nearly deserted roads, it could be Iowa. Little is actually illuminated, but everything is collectable: potato and ticket stub, hand soap and soil. At one point, the car passes a radiation warning sign and cuts through the edge of a deserted town — empty Soviet-style apartment buildings, weeds growing through the pavement.

Grasshopper in the sunflowers, soon you too will have a non-speaking role.

5 Replies to “The opposite of loneliness”

  1. Thanks Dave. I just put that into my NetFlix Q.

    And I now have yet anouther book to read, when ever I get back into that habit.

  2. The friend who recently lent this film to us had a father who was a Russian Jew – this friend had seen the movie four times, and I want to watch it again though I liked it very much the first time; I know there were significant things I missed.

  3. Keith – I’m sure you’ll like the movie. It’s rewarding on a number of different levels.

    beth – Yeah, I’d definitely watch it again. I saw it for the first time last Sunday, on the big screen, as part of a free film series at the local college.

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